An unearthed essay reveals Winston Churchill anticipated space travel and aliens
He is acknowledged as Britain's greatest war-time prime minister, one of the most celebrated orators of the 20th century, and a respected author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
But an essay discovered buried in an American archive shows that Winston Churchill was also convinced that aliens existed, believing the universe contained other "living, thinking, creatures".
Most scientists now agree that some form of extra-terrestrial life exists in such a vast universe, but Churchill was writing more than 50 years before the discovery of the first planet outside our solar system.
He also identified that any planet capable of supporting life must orbit in an area of space which is neither too hot nor not too cold for liquid water to flow, a state which scientists today call The Goldilocks Zone.
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The essay was unearthed in the National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, in the US, by Timothy Reilly, the director of the museum, who passed it on to Dr Mario Livio, an American astrophysicist and author.
"At a time when a number of today's politicians shun science, I found it moving to recall a leader who engaged in it so profoundly," said Dr Livio.
"Particularly given today's political landscape, elected leaders should heed Churchill's example."
In the essay, which was never published, Churchill realised that a life-supporting planet must have a significant gravity field, and so concluded that Mars and Venus were the only ones in the solar system capable of supporting life.
Today Nasa and the European Space Agency are scouring Mars looking for signs of life, also believing the planet to be the most likely source of alien life. India this week announced its maiden mission to Venus.
As well as looking inside the solar system, Churchill noted that a large fraction of the extrasolar planets "will be the right size to keep on their surface water, and possibly and atmosphere of some sort" and will be "at the proper distance from their parent sun to maintain a suitable temperature".
The essay, dated 1939, was written decades before the astronomer Frank Drake calculated in 1961 that the universe was so large that it was highly probably that it contained alien life.
Scientists today believe that in our own Milky Way galaxy alone, there are more than one billion Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone that could contain life.
"The sun is merely one star in our galaxy," writes Churchill. "With hundreds of thousands of nebulae, each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible." He also predicted that man would soon visit the Moon.
Churchill had little science education but was fascinated by the subject. He was the first prime minister to insist on a scientific adviser.
During his tenure, he fostered an environment where the brightest scientists in the country could build ground-breaking machines, such as the Bernard Lovell telescope, and make world-changing discoveries in molecular genetics, radio astronomy, nuclear power, nerve and brain function and robotics.
The rediscovery of the essay was reported in the journal Nature.
- The Telegraph, London